NEWSLETTER No. 66 — September 2006


Christian & Jewish

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ICCJ 2006 Vienna conference highlights need for dialogue

Australia’s delegate to the 2006 ICCJ conference, Shana Kerlander (pictured below) returned with a strong message from its comprehensive program that the work of interfaith relations throughout the world is by no means done and that renewed efforts must be made to maintain and increase the level of dialogue so far achieved. Vienna – the city of music, Shana writes, opened the July meeting with an opening violin and piano performance and closed it on yet another musical note with the vibrant voices of the Jewish Choir of Vienna.

Co-hosted by The Austrian Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, an organisation celebrating its 50th anniversary, the conference heard the President of this committee, Rev’d Prof Helmut Nauser introduce the theme “Encounter with History- Learning for the Future”.

With an emphasis on the importance of understanding history and the meaning of historic sites, the program in turn, had many excursions of historical sites in and around Vienna significant for the way Christians and Jews lived and worked together from the Middle Ages to the present day.

These visits, which formed an extra dimension to the deliberations of the conference hall, included St Stephen’s Cathedral with its extraordinary wealth, history and treasures, followed by an examination of “Jewish Vienna”, beginning in the Judenplatz with its stark Memorial to the Austrian Holocaust Victims and its Museum. The memorial is a large concrete cube resembling a library of 7,000 volumes turned inside out. The doors are locked and the books face inwards. The base of the memorial has names of the places where 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

“We then visited the main synagogue of Vienna. Of the city's 94 Synagogues and Temples this splendid 1825 building was the only one to survive Kristllnacht”, Shana noted…

Delegates also visited the Austrian Parliament and the Palais Epstein where a tribute was paid to Jewish deputies to the Austrian parliament. This was followed by the presentation of the 2006 ICCJ International Sir Sigmund Sternberg award to Professor Kurt Schubert, founder of the Co-ordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Co-operation as a branch of the Catholic Peace Movement in 1956. This acknowledgment of a lifelong commitment of Christian-Jewish dialogue included reference to his unswerving attitude against the National Socialist regime and his establishment of the Jewish institute for the study of Jewish history and culture in Europe at the University of Vienna.

Planning for the 2007 ICCJ International conference to be held in Australia is reportedly progressing. The Australian Council is continuing its efforts to obtain grants from various organisations to help defray the not inconsiderable cost which are involved in the staging of such a major event. Details on progress of the ongoing planning will be released in the December issue of Scene.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light

Prayer of St. Francis

Victorian Council active: report

At its Annual General Meeting held in the Cato Room, Wesley College, St Kilda Road, Melbourne earlier this year the Victorian Council witnessed an unusual presentation involving women from Sydney and Melbourne.

Australia’s foremost biographer, Dr Brenda Niall AO from Melbourne, a Christian, spoke of her friendship with Judith Cassab of Sydney, one of Australia’s great living artists whose life story is the subject of a most fascinating biography by Dr Niall. Judith Cassab, the daughter of Hungarian Jewish parents who perished in the Holocaust, came to Australia in 1949 and has had a most creative life family wise, socially and artistically, all sensitively and skilfully brought together in a most interesting and readable book. It is not surprising that Dr Niall was awarded the NSW Premier’s prize for 2005 for this work.


In her address Dr Niall described how she, coming out of Genazzano a genteel girls school in Kew Victoria, had no knowledge of the impact the War which was then raging in Europe had on ordinary people, nor of the huge human tragedy which was unfolding involving the Jewish people. For her part, Judith Cassab’s diaries which contained so much detail were utterly absorbing and gave her insights into the sufferings, the fear, the deprivations and the uncertainties which confronted Judy Cassab and many other Jews in those years. That Judy could start a new life in far off Australia in 1949 and achieve so much success is a remarkable story and it was most pleasing that a capacity crowd of nearly 150 people was in attendance to enjoy this outstanding address.

The AGM was chaired with great style and humour by Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn of the East St Kilda Congregation, all the more important, as AGM’s are not necessarily the high point for most people over the course of a year.

On the last Sunday in July at St John’s Anglican Church Camberwell, Christian and Jewish poetry was on the agenda.

This was a new format with participants, Kitia Altman, James Charlton, Paul Mitchell, Jacob Rosenberg and Alex Skovron who read from their own works and Rodney Wetherell former Poetry Director for ABC Radio who chaired.

In thanking the participating poets and the hosts for the afternoon, Council chairman, Bill Clancy (pictured above) also expressed gratitude to Dr Morna Sturrock AM, whose idea it was to have this type of function , to St. John’s for the use of its excellent facilities and to all volunteers who helped with afternoon tea.

The Council's next major function will be the “Launch of Gesher 2006” in the new state-of–the-art Campbell McComas Theatre at Scotch College in the inner suburb of Hawthorn, a school attended by many famous Australians, including Sir John Monash and Sir Zelman Cowen.

Malcolm Turnbull to launch Gesher

To be held on Wednesday 25 October 2006 it will be addressed by the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Member for Wentworth, on a subject which is dear to all working on closer Christian-Jewish relations.

"We are hoping to attract a very large crowd to this function and would welcome any visitors from interstate and overseas. “If you are likely to be in Melbourne on this evening and would like to attend please reserve your seat with Liz Parker on 03 9817 384", said Mr. Clancy.

He also reported that at the AGM the Council farewelled Sr Mary Lotton who has served on the Executive for 15 years, 12 as Hon. Secretary. "Mary was a driving force throughout all the years and her charm, intellect and commitment will be sorely missed. We wish her well in her new endeavours," Mr. Clancy added.


Commenting on the recent farrago of slanted media reporting of the issue of anti vilification laws, a senior CCJ executive member referred to his Catholic background in terms more usually associated with the minority Jewish community. Describing what has emerged as a confusing collection of comments particularly in Victoria, he said "I am more than sensitive to the fears and concerns of minority groups in this community. My history is that I have emerged out of a minority group which was as much a victim of religious and racial vilification as any group in Australia’s history. " We have made enormous progress in bringing justice for minority groups into our society and I have heard many Jews say how this is for them the best and fairest country in the world. He then added: "The Muslims are recent arrivals in the main and come with agendas from the past. In their experience they believe that legislation will secure their position. I think they have to be assured that this is not the Australian way. We don’t want to introduce here the tensions and pressures so evident in other societies around the world".

“We have made enormous progress in bringing justice for minority groups into our society and I have heard many Jews say how this is for them the best and fairest country in the world”

There is here a stark reminder of a past of which many of us are still very much aware when he goes on to say: “I am very mindful of how the law can be used against minority groups e.g. the Third Reich. Hitler got his legislation well in place before using it. “I am not saying that we have to fear that this legislation of itself could be used against minority groups. What I am saying is that it moves the community one step further away from working it out ourselves, from the common law system which we inherited from England which is by far the best system built by man to protect our freedoms. “This is not widely appreciated but quite often the strength of our freedom is secured, not in statute law but in the wisdom of generations of judges embodied in our great common law system.” His basic premise is valid. It is up to bodies like the CCJ to encourage the assimilation of all groups and religions into the community so that they do not feel marginalised or vilified and are not the victims of that bullying behaviour which so often causes so much hurt and fear.

Catholic clergy’s WWII rescues of Jews…

Rescue activities on behalf of Jews were carried out by priests, nuns and monks in more than 900 Roman Catholic Church institutions throughout Poland during World War II. The number of priests and religious involved in these activities was many times higher. This effort is all the more remarkable since Poland was the only country under Nazi Germany occupation where any form of assistance to Jews was punishable by death. Several dozen members of the Polish clergy were executed for this reason.

Among the several thousand Poles—women, men, and children, often entire families and sometimes even whole communities—put to death by the Germans for coming to the assistance of Jews, there were dozens of priests and religious. Waclaw Zajaczkowski, Martyrs of Charity: Christian and Jewish Response to the Holocaust, Part One (Washington, D.C.: St. Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, 1987) lists, with source references, the following priests as having been killed, usually by summary execution, for assisting Jews: It should be remembered that Catholic priests and nuns constituted only a small but representative portion of Polish rescuers and the several thousand Poles who were burned alive, executed or died from torture because they befriended Jews. As for the accomplishments of Poles in rescuing Jews, the most comprehensive research regarding the Warsaw area is that conducted by Gunnar S. Paulsson.

Comparison with the Netherlands

Paulsson has summarised some of his findings in an article entitled, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” which appeared in The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 in which he said: “In the league of people who are known to have risked their lives to rescue Jews, Poland stands at the very top, accounting for more than a third of all the ‘Righteous Gentiles’. He goes on to point out that there is an excellent comparison with the Netherlands where it is estimated that some 25,000 Jews went into hiding— about the same number as in Warsaw, of whom 10–15,000 survived—again, about the same number. “The conclusion, then, is quite startling: leaving aside acts of war and Nazi perfidy, a Jew’s chances of survival in hiding were no worse in Warsaw than in the Netherlands. … “The small number of survivors, therefore, is not a direct result of Polish hostility to the Jews . Paulson continued: “The 27,000 Jews in hiding in Warsaw relied on about 50–60,000 people who provided hiding-places and another 20–30,000 who provided other forms of help; on the other hand, blackmailers, police agents, and other actively anti-Jewish elements numbered perhaps 2–3,000. In other words, helpers outnumbered hunters by about 20 or 30 to one. The active helpers of Jews thus made up seven to nine per cent of the population of Warsaw; the Jews themselves, 2.7 per cent; the hunters, perhaps